I have a good friend with a small gray photo box in his book shelf which is otherwise filled with books and old lp-records. This is a very special photo box and it contains photographs from early 1900s. I have investigated the contents of this box with him couple of times together and it contains many interesting black & white photos of men and women of different ages, mostly carefully setup portraits but there are some other stuff as well. The interesting part is that my friend doesn't know any of the persons who appear in those photos, he only knows that there exists a some kind of kinship which connects him with those persons. And neither any of his relatives knows the particular persons in those photos either, at their best they can only guess family lines and such but do not recognize anyone.
When discussing this matter with him a bit further it turns out that the gray photo box is all that remains of those particular people. He doesn't know their names, family lines or stories, but if he throws away this box then these people and their memory are conclusively erased from this world and they will disappear into the void. So, for the sake of these people he cannot do it. Instead we look at these photos with wonder. There is, for example, a young girl, maybe 15 to 20 years old, dressed up very fine and has a certain stinging look in her eyes as she looks straight into our eyes through the photograph. Some other pictures portray older men wearing fine suits and posing grandly. Then interestingly there are couple of photographs which have a Christian cross engraved on top persons, which means they have probably died later on and someone have wanted to mark that on the photos. And it sends shivers down to my spine to find some photographs of graves and grave stones there too. Looking at these photos, one cannot escape the feeling that these people knew that their presence in this world was going to be temporal and they wanted to leave their mark with the photographs.
This photographic experience has probably affected me more than any single photograph, museum or exhibition. It has helped me to clarity the 'why' behind my own photography. When I'm recording the childhood of our two daughters I don't aim just for 'happy snapshots for the family photo album'. Instead I've become very aware of how photographs can, at their best, encapsulate the glow of life within themselves so that they will illuminate long after the life itself has perished. I have my eye on horizon and I'm hoping that the photo books I make with such a diligent manner will last longer than I do. When I will eventually pass away the books will probably become property of our two daughters who, I'm sure, will appreciate them. And if they will have a children of their own, those are likely to be interested of their mothers childhood enough to store them and so on the chain of kinship continues. But at some point the pictures in those photo books will become unidentified to someone in that chain and he/she has to decide if to keep them or not – and finally someone decides to abandon them. Then all those small moments and memories that made us as a family, like breast feeding the baby for the very first time, our daughters growing up and playing together, learning to ride a bike, character of summer light in some particular summer evening, family trips, morning mist at first school day, etc. will fade into the void and we will cease to exist to the world. At that point my photography has fulfilled its mission and there is no reason to preserve it anymore.
So there you go, now you now the secret how I define and answer the 'why' behind my photography. This sort of existential stance on photography is often strong with beginners once they find the miracle of camera obscura for the first time, but once you 'learn' photographic techniques, 'cultivate' your taste and 'domesticate' your photographic eye, it somehow gets lost there within all the talk about process, equipment and whatever. For me photography is a way to seize into the moment and trying to be aware of my existence (something which a German philosopher Martin Heidegger could have described with the term 'dasein'). And as such it is also a mirror to myself always reflecting my individual meaning, destiny and lifespan. I'm not looking for commercial success or artistic recognition for my photography, but I want to learn to create authentic and timeless pictures that someone will find interesting even after 100 years. Yeah, I know it's pretty sublime mission, but I also think it's something that remains if you strip away everything unnecessary from photography. No one cares which camera bodies or lenses where used, but they are of course important to me as photographer as I'm trying to deliver the best. While blog projects like this one are fun and they surely keep my flame alive in a good way, they are still something that just 'comes and goes' without significant meaning to the real photography. What really remains of my photography are the 'gray photo boxes' (or in this case photo books) that might sit on someone's bookshelf long after I'm gone.